SAGE 2013 program summary

The conference program and abstracts can be downloaded here.


Symposia & Workshops

For more information on the seven symposia and two workshops held at SAGE 2013 please click onto the symposium titles.


  Geohazards as primary factors for bio-geodiversity & conservation in SE Asia

Organizer: Dicky Muslim (

Keynote speaker: Dr. Yunus Kusumahbrata (Secretary General of Geological Agency of Indonesia)

With the increasing threat of geological hazards in Southeast Asia, especially on the coastline along the Indian Ocean following off shore tragedies such as the Sumatra Earthquakes and Tsunamis in 2004 and 2010, there has been an increase of research interest into bio-geodiversity and conservation. This interest is mainly due to the fact that the high increase of economic development in this region requires a profound understanding of the area to be developed.

As natural catastrophes and land degradation are major issues, the conservation of rocks, soil and vegetation in mountainous or sloping regions has become an international priority. A geological hazard is a naturally occurring geologic condition or phenomenon that presents a risk or is a potential danger to life and property. Examples include landslide, flood, earthquakes and tsunamis, ground subsidence, coastal and beach erosion, faulting, dam leakage and failure, mining disasters, pollution and waste disposal, and seawater intrusion.

The symposium aims to highlight geological hazards as a background to understanding geological events in shaping the region’s complex geology.


  Processes & mechanisms of Cenozoic climate & environment change in SE Asia

Organizer: Matthias Prange (

Keynote speaker: Dr. Mahyar Mohtadi (

The modern climate of Southeast (SE) Asia is governed by a complex monsoon system and influenced by various modes of variability, like the El Niño/Southern Oscillation or the Indian Ocean Dipole. The interaction between these different climatic phenomena is poorly understood. Even less is known about variations in SE Asian climate and their forcing factors in the geological past.
Proxy-based reconstructions and numerical model simulations are crucial in order to improve our understanding of the mechanisms that control regional climate variability and the processes that drove changes in the past.

This session aims at bringing together scientists from different fields dealing with past climate and environmental variability in the SE Asian region.

We invite contributions that provide new insights into the Cenozoic development of climate and environmental changes using all sorts of proxy data and/or numerical models.
We welcome submissions that elucidate potential forcing mechanisms of regional climate and environmental change during the Paleogene, Neogene, and Quaternary.

  Palaeobiogeography in SE Asia from the Late Palaeozoic to the Cenozoic

Organizers: Gilles Cuny & Eric Buffetaut (

Keynote speaker: Hanneke Meijer (

SE Asia comprises a collage of continental terranes derived from Gondwana, which accreted to Eurasia between the Late Permian and the Late Jurassic. The area has yielded a rich and diverse vertebrate fauna from the Devonian to the Late Cenozoic, more particularly in Thailand (Devonian to Cenozoic), Laos (Permian to Cretaceous) and Myanmar (Cenozoic).
These faunas show Gondwanan affinities during the Devonian, but from the Permian to the Early Cretaceous, they show increased endemicity with some European and Chinese influences. However, geographical barriers controlling the high provincialism of this part of the world are still poorly understood, and one of the main aims of this symposium will be to bring specialists together to present a state-of-the-art overview of our current knowledge concerning the palaeobiogeographical affinities of the faunas and floras from SE Asia.
We shall also focus on the role of SE Asia as a potential centre of origination for Cenozoic mammal and reptile lineages.

We shall welcome input from neontologists as well, providing phylogenetic background for various plants and animals from a fossil perspective.

  Layers in the landscape: Biome assembly & biogeography in SE Asia

Organizers: N. Raes & C. Costion (with P. van Welzen, J. Richardson & A.N. Muellner-Riehl) (

Keynote speaker: Prof. Ferry Slik (

Southeast Asia is one of the most geographically complex regions on Earth that has changed considerably over the last 50 Myr. As the Sunda and Sahul plates collided the paleogeography, and especially topography, changed considerably providing numerous vicariance and dispersal opportunities. Consecutive eustatic sea level rises and falls (up to 50 times in the past 2.7 My) have resulted in the waxing and waning of both land areas and seas causing corridors and barriers for migration. Furthermore, glacial cycles have had a profound effect on the atmospheric and oceanic abiotic conditions resulting in range contractions and expansions through time. These processes have left their fingerprints on present marine and terrestrial species distributions. Advances in molecular phylogenetics, climatology, geology, and species distribution modeling are now unraveling the contribution of these events in shaping the present and future biogeography and biome assembly of the region.

Talks for this symposium are invited to explore the following or related questions:
  • ~ What are the major geographic barriers that have influenced biome assembly in the region and are they different for flora and fauna?
  • ~ Why is there a historical bias in directional flow of lineages from east to west?
  • ~ How much of a role has phylogenetic niche conservatism played in the assembly of biota?
  • ~ What methods are most relevant for unraveling biome level patterns in the landscape to understand evolutionary history?
  • ~ What impacts of global climate and land use change are predicted by species distribution modeling.

  The origin and diversification of the endemic fauna of Sulawesi

Organizers: Peter Galbusera, Greger Larson & Alastair McDonald (

Keynote speaker: Björn Stelbrink (

In this symposium we will focus on the (endemic) taxa of Sulawesi. To better understand their historical and current (genetic) diversity and structure, we aim to integrate geological and biological information.

Sulawesi is special in terms of geology and biodiversity. It is the largest and probably the oldest island of Wallacea and hence has a huge biodiversity in this hotspot region. Recent advances in explaining the origin of endemics, using molecular phylogenies across species and geological insights into the composite origin of the island, confirmed that Sulawesi’s fauna is predominantly of Asian origin and reached the island mainly through dispersal. However, some species (e.g., pachychilid snails) are more likely to have a vicariant origin. Furthermore, many of the endemics evolved through adaptive radiations after colonization by a small number of immigrants. Also much can be learned from the genetic diversity and structure within species of animals and plants. After colonization of the island, intra-specific genetic diversification was probably shaped through geology and climate as, across taxa, there seems to be a common structure.
However, many questions still remain to be answered.
  • Did this structure arise simultaneously (temporal congruence in intra-Sulawesi diversification)?
  • Is the structure identical for all endemic taxa?
  • What are the consequences for taxonomy (e.g., cryptic species)?
  • What exactly caused this structure: geology, (paleo)climate, sea-level changes, habitat suitability, …?
  • Does the structure change over time (e.g., through habitat fragmentation, transports, repeated colonisation,…)?
  • Which statistical approaches are most useful (e.g., by incorporating GIS data, stochasticity and a hypothesis-testing framework)?
During this symposium, we intend to provide a forum for researchers dealing with these questions and give an update on current developments in this field.

  SE Asian peat swamp forests: biodiversity vs. biofuel

Organizer: Lukas Rüber (

Please note: This symposium will be followed by a workshop, see below for details.

Keynote speaker: Lian Pin Koh (

Tropical peat swamp forests (PSF), one of the most threatened ecosystems, are waterlogged forests growing on a layer of dead plant material. More than 60% of the world’s tropical PSF are found in Sundaland. PSF comprise an ancient and unique ecosystem characterized by low nutrients and highly acidic black water (pH as low as 2.53). These PSF provide crucial ecosystem services particularly in the control of water storage, coastal erosion prevention, and future carbon sequestration from the atmosphere.

Until recently, the Southeast Asian PSF have received little attention from biologists. They have long been regarded as a species poor ecosystem with low productivity, low faunal diversity and few endemics. This assumption is contradicted by the many endemic and highly stenotopic animal and plant species discovered in recent years giving this ecosystem worldwide significance for unique and highly unusual species. Much of the recent interest in the Southeast Asian PSF has resulted from their importance as carbon sinks and stores, containing up to 21% of the world’s land-based carbon (peat deposits), and their important role in the global carbon cycle. Hence their stability has important implications for global change. However, the Southeast Asian PSF are disappearing rapidly. More than 60% of the SE Asian PSF have already been lost by 2010. Persistent habitat destruction in particular, draining, logging and forest conversion for agricultural use (i.e. oil palm plantations) threatens their stability, and makes them susceptible to fire and hence turning these important carbon sinks into carbon sources. For example converting PSF into oil palm plantations to produce food crop-based biofuels creates a “biofuel carbon dept” by releasing between 400 to over 600 times more CO2 than the annual greenhouse gas reductions that these biofuels would provide by displacing fossil fuels.

This symposium will bring together researcher interested in PSF: history of formation (age, peat accumulation rates), biodiversity and conservation, draining and deforestation, fires and carbon source, restoration, conversion into oil palm plantations, and palm oil based biofuel.

  SE Asian biodiversity: challenges of inventorising megadiverse biota

Organizers: Thomas von Rintelen & Peter Ng (

Please note: This symposium will be followed by a workshop aiming at developing an action plan as outlined below.

Keynote speaker: Introduction by the organizers

The megadiverse SE Asian fauna and flora has been the subject of taxonomic studies for over two centuries. However, it is only over the last 50 years that these endeavours have been substantially ramped up". Despite this increased activity, the region's species inventory is not even remotely complete and total species number estimates are guesswork at best. The lack of reliable data (or even estimates) seriously hampers progress in ongoing and upcoming evolutionary and ecological studies, such as the tracking of changes in biotic composition due to anthropogenic and/or climate change. While this is not an uniquely SE Asian problem, the complexity and heterogeneity of the region's ecotypes (ranging from high mountains to deep sea and including major key habitats like peat swamps and mangroves) as well as the scale and speed of habitat destruction makes the challenge particularly acute. Urgent action will be needed if the current trends are to be reversed.

We believe that the measures and tools needed to substantially accelerate the discovery and description of new species are now available. However, they have not been effectively combined and applied to yield their full potential benefit.

The workshop we propose will serve as a stepping stone towards linking and coordinating various promising techniques to amplify current biodiversity discovery regimes. We hope to do this by bringing together experts in relevant fields such as, e.g., morphology, DNA barcoding, digital documentation, e-taxonomy etc., to develop an action plan for overcoming the taxonomic backlog. How can existing taxonomic procedures, i.e. application of nomenclature, descriptive methodology and type designation, be made more efficient in order to complement fast or even automatic (DNA sequences) identification of new species, either in new samples or existing collections? This is especially important in groups which have huge numbers of undescribed species. What kind of cooperation will be needed to develop and retain the skilled manpower, as well as motivate the necessary political impetus to implement such new discovery pipelines? The challenge of an all-species-inventory" for SE Asia is not just a noble vision but a critical one if the region's megadiversity is not to go the way of the Dodo.


  Evolution of Southeast Asia: Mapping & merging Geology & Biology

Organizers: Mark de Bruyn & Robert Hall (

Southeast Asia’s dynamic geological and climatic history has driven the evolution of the region’s land and seas through time and space.

Superimposed upon this dynamic landscape is a long-term natural evolutionary experiment that is currently yielding significant insight into processes that have generated such remarkable levels of biodiversity in this region. Understanding the biotic history of the region, and the major drivers of regional biogeographic structure, require a robust geological framework. Geological reconstructions of the region are continually evolving as technology and theory regarding earth history advance. However, the region is characterized by exceptional geological complexity, which still presents formidable challenges to geologists.

In this regard, well-studied biological groups likely to exhibit strong biogeographic structure (e.g. obligate freshwater taxa), particularly those with robust dated phylogenies, may provide novel insights into the earth history of this region. To date, geological and biological investigations from this region have progressed independently, with biologists waiting expectantly for the ‘latest installment’ from the geologists. Here, we propose to move the field forward by bringing together leading geologists and biologists to identify key questions that require our combined focus.

We will use blow-ups of Robert Hall’s geological reconstructions and maps of land and sea to discuss
  • (i) the data basis for these maps and potential conflicts between data sources such as e.g. geology and palynology, as well as areas of particular uncertainty, and
  • (ii) to overlay general biological patterns, and then identify which regions/questions remain elusive to both groups of researchers, and how best to address these questions.

This session will also likely generate opportunities for combined future research projects, and identify funding mechanisms that may be targeted to achieve these goals.

  Southeast Asian peat swamp forests: biodiversity vs. biofuel

Organizer: Lukas Rüber (

This workshop is linked to the symposium with the same name listed above.

The SE Asian peat swamp forest workshop aims for a high-profile review paper to be composed in a post-conference workshop. Possible focal points include:
  • 1) the urgent need for biodiversity inventories, e-Taxonomy sources, predictive species distribution modelling and conservation efforts based on phylogenetic frameworks to maximise the preservation of evolutionary history.
  • 2) review of PSF deforestation rates, delineate regions with still intact PSF, provide a summary of different land use changes (i.e. urbanization, oil palm plantations), assessing the proportion of oil palm plantations used for biofuel production.

  SE Asian biodiversity: challenges of inventorising megadiverse biota

This workshop is linked to the symposium with the same name listed above, see there for details.

Organizers: Thomas von Rintelen & Peter Ng (

Sponsors for SAGE 2013